Dark season 3 review: Sci-fi at its most mesmerising, confounding and exhilarating
The third season of the German science-fiction drama closes out the series in irresistible style, says Patrick Cremona.
When I first started watching Dark back in the winter of 2017, I was hooked almost instantly. Before tuning in, I'd already heard rave reviews and early comparisons to Netflix's other great sci-fi hit Stranger Things, and so my expectations were high - but what I discovered was actually something rather different: here was a show that managed to combine a highly unusual jumble of influences into something genuinely exciting and unique. It was as if a gritty Nordic Noir mystery, early Twin Peaks and the Back to the Future trilogy had all had a baby, and I loved every minute of it.
The second season came round more than a year later, in summer 2019, and I was similarly impressed - the sophomore run expertly built on what had come before, further complicating the show's already rather knotty mythology and ending on one of the finest, most jaw-dropping, cliffhangers in recent memory.
All this is to say that, naturally, I was incredibly apprehensive heading into the series' third and final run, which arrives on Netflix this Saturday (fans of the show will note that June 27th 2020 is a significant date). It's all very well mastering the build up, I thought, but it would all be for nothing if it couldn't ultimately stick the landing and close off the series in spectacular style. Well, I needn't have worried - the third season of Dark is every bit as good as the two that preceded it, clinching the show's place right at the top of Netflix's list of originals.
Dark is a show that it's best to experience without knowing too much about the twists and turns that lay in store, and so I'll endeavour to not give any important plot points away here. What I can say, however, is that the final season further expands the series' already sweeping scope by introducing not just another timeline, but a whole new parallel universe - one where things are crucially different but also achingly similar to the Winden we've come to know across a timespan of more than 100 years. The result is something that has the sense of a real epic, as we shift between different worlds, timelines and versions of characters.
Immense credit has to go to series creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese for what they have achieved. That so many timelines, characters and stories are balanced without the series ever seeming uneven is a miracle of writing and a testament to their talent. There might be times along the way when you're not quite sure what's going on - in fact there will most likely be times along the way when you're pretty certain that you don't know what's going on - but you'll never be anything less than absolutely gripped as you watch the past, present and future of the seemingly doomed Winden unfold.
Its success on that front can partly be attributed to the fact that the series is a relatively rare recent example of something which seems to have been conceived as a trilogy right from the outset. The result is that there is always a coherent purpose and direction to the action - the writers seem fully in control and as a result gain the full trust of the viewer.
Something which is also true of Dark is that it has always been profoundly cinematic, and that is the case once again here - the cinematography is consistently stunning (there are as many slow-panning overhead shots of trees as ever), and some of the more unusual sequences towards the end are genuinely quite breathtaking. Meanwhile the unnerving, droning score does a lot to sustain the atmosphere of dread and tension that is present throughout.
The casting of this show has also always been terrific - particularly in its frequent ability to find actors to play younger and older versions of the characters - and the truly mammoth cast are all in fine form once again for the final installment. Maja Schöne as Hannah Kahnwald has been a standout throughout the show’s run, and although she features slightly less prominently this time round she delivers in every scene in which she appears - including one particularly memorable moment towards the end. Lisa Vicari as Martha (or rather, multiple Marthas) is given an awful lot to do and gives a sensational performance, while Louis Hoffman once again proves himself more than capable of leading the cast.
There's a sort of fatalistic helplessness that pervades much of the series, which can make it a little, well... dark, to watch at times, and it deals with some weighty themes that ensure you'll have to pay close attention (it's certainly not something to casually have on in the background). But this is science fiction at its most mesmerising, its most confounding and its most exhilarating - and it all makes for a truly irresistible piece of television.